Thetford Town's Matt Morton on being an openly gay player-manager in non-league football

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward

Matt Morton didn't even know he was gay until his 30s.

Scrolling through Instagram one night in January 2018, someone started liking his photos. Instead of brushing it off, he realised he was intrigued.

"Somebody decided to follow me on Instagram and like a few of my photos. I didn't know who that person was," he told ITV News Anglia.

"They wanted to know me, and for some strange reason I wanted to know them as well and that was the kind of first time I thought: 'Well, this is a bit strange.'"

Matt Morton talks to ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward. Credit: ITV News Anglia

From that point on, it became obvious to Matt that this was more than just a phase.

He initially confided in his PA at work, before telling his close family and friends.

But perhaps the most daunting prospect was telling his teammates at Norfolk non-league football team Thetford Town.

By making the decision to come out as an openly gay player, Matt was taking a huge leap of faith, and although he competes in the ninth tier of English football, he's now one of the highest-profile gay footballers in the country.

Despite having a few nerves, the reality of revealing his sexuality to the mates that he shares a dressing room with was far from as scary as he imagined.

Matt is a no-nonsense centre-half. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"Players now, and most people nowadays, I think their heart's in the right place and they're certainly open to these kind of things, and so they should be as well," Matt said.

"I think that's the message to send out to everybody else, that actually it's a much more accepting world and a much more accepting environment, even in sport and football, than I think people give it credit for."

If anything, coming out has helped Matt flourish even further.

He's now the player-manager at Thetford, something that has only cemented his reputation as a hugely respected figure in the dressing room even further.

His decision to come out has resulted in many people contacting him to thank him for inspiring them to be true to themselves, and he hopes that others will eventually follow his lead - instead of walking away from the sport.

  • Watch an extended interview with Matt Morton

"You've stopped playing the sport that you love, your hobby, your passion, you've taken yourself away from your teammates and your friends, you've self-ostracised just because you're afraid to say 'I'm gay'," Matt said.

"I think that there's a lot of work to be done until this isn't news, but every single person who's done what I've done now going forward, this becomes less newsworthy and more and more normal."

Sadly, stories like Matt's are still the exception rather than the rule - especially in the professional game.

Former Norwich City striker, Justin Fashanu. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Former Norwich City striker Justin Fashanu remains Britain's only openly gay male professional player, and 22 years on from his death, no one has yet to follow in his footsteps.

However, Matt, who's from Bury St Edmunds, is hopeful that someone will have the bravery and the courage to do so soon.

"When you've got 50,000 or 60,000 people, and half of them are against you, particularly in opposition grounds, I think that a lot of players will be thinking that they're going to be open to abuse from those fans," he said.

"But if you come out as a gay player in the Premier League, I think, if anything, you'll get more endorsements. There'll be a lot of people willing to work with you and associate their brand with you. There's a lot of good people in professional sport and they've got the opportunity to make people's lives better."